Islamic Divorce in North America: A Shari'a Path in a Secular Society

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9780199753918: Islamic Divorce in North America: A Shari'a Path in a Secular Society

Policy-makers and the public are increasingly attentive to the role of shari'a in the everyday lives of Western Muslims, with negative associations and public fears growing among their non-Muslim neighbors in the United States and Canada. The most common way North American Muslims relate to shari'a is in their observance of Muslim marriage and divorce rituals; recourse to traditional Islamic marriage and, to a lesser extent, divorce is widespread. Julie Macfarlane has conducted hundreds of interviews with Muslim couples, as well as with religious and community leaders and family conflict professionals. Her book describes how Muslim marriage and divorce processes are used in North America, and what they mean to those who embrace them as a part of their religious and cultural identity. The picture that emerges is of an idiosyncratic private ordering system that reflects a wide range of attitudes towards contemporary family values and changes in gender roles. Some women describe pervasive assumptions about restrictions on their role in the family system, as well as pressure to accept these values and to stay married. Others of both genders describe the gradual modernization of Islamic family traditions - and the subsequent emergence of a Western shari'a--but a continuing commitment to the rituals of Muslim marriage and divorce in their private lives. Readers will be challenged to consider how the secular state should respond in order to find a balance between state commitment to universal norms and formal equality, and the protection of religious freedom expressed in private religious and cultural practices.

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About the Author:

Dr. Julie Macfarlane is Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Windsor, Adjunct Professor of Practice at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Public Understanding. She conducts qualitative empirical research and has written extensively on dispute resolution and in particular the role of lawyers (The New Lawyer: How Settlement is Transforming the Practice of Law).


"Meticulously researched with a careful, deeply respectful methodology based on first person interviews, Macfarlane's book opens much-needed and groundbreaking conversation. Perhaps the most revealing window this profoundly instructive book provides is one that reminds us how similar we are across our religious identities, and how important and relevant it is to constructively address the relationships between faith, meaning, and place in contemporary secular democracies. This book is one of the most empirically grounded and enlightening contributions for understanding lived Islam in North America to emerge in this past decade - a time clouded by the fury of religious apprehension and exaggeration."
- John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding, University of Notre Dame

"Islamic Divorce in North America is a very timely book in light of the current debates about shari'a law in the Western world. I am impressed by the depth of research and information it has to offer. I will recommend it to those who are interested in Islamic Family Law as well as those working with couples on marital issues."
-Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America

"The book is important in several ways. It contributes to the scant qualitative literature on divorce and religious experience. It counters media and widespread assumptions of Islamic marriage and divorce as backward and anti-American... Finally, readers are challenged to think about the relationship between the state and religion in North America, where religious identity across faiths has become increasingly individualized." --Sociology of Religion

"Julie Macfarlane's book is a comprehensive, honest, and deeply sensitive study of some of the most challenging and contentious issues facing North American Muslims: namely, the rise in divorce rate and the role faith plays in the institution of marriage. I recommend this book as an essential and valuable reference for legal professionals, imams, academics, and counselors working with Muslim families."
- Shahina Siddiqui, President/Executive Director, Islamic Social Services Association Inc.-Canada

"Macfarlane writes clear, elegant prose and has produced that rarity, a solidly accomplished academic study that can be read and enjoyed by any intelligent lay reader. This is a book that ought to have a wider audience than most academic studies. It provides the materials for a sane, balanced public discussion about law, religion, immigrant communities, marriage and divorce, and it can serve as a much needed corrective to the knee jerk prejudice that too often surrounds discussions of North American Muslims."--Vancouver Sun

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